A Disturbing Trend Post-Hugo Slate, and Why “Merits” Is Not a Valid Thing to Say

As I posted yesterday, I didn’t quite share the outrage about certain nominations on this year’s Hugo slate, mostly because I’m too jaded and cynical about the Hugos already, and intensely problematic nominations have, to be honest, felt somewhat inevitable to me.

But other people have been doing a good job making me think, and making me wonder if we can and should be better as a genre.  People like Natalie Luhrs, and Rose Lemberg, and Kameron Hurley, and Kate Nepveu.  I appreciate their criticism, and I appreciate seeing outrage from those expressing it — it’s intelligent and well-placed and it makes me reconsider my own indifference, to question why I think so little of a genre that I love so much that I expect this sort of thing out of its popular awards process.  (And combine that with the fact that there is much to love on this awards slate — I find I don’t want the Hugos to be tarnished, because people I think should be recognized are getting recognized this year.)

Anyway, as I’ve been reading and thinking, I’m becoming very, very disturbed, because the trend I’m seeing online — even from people who usually have nuanced things to say on these subjects — is to dismiss what critics of the nominations are saying, to abuse them, or to brush off the fact that there is any problem and say, “Just judge the work on its merits!”

This angers me far more than the slate itself.

Why?  Because as cynical as I am, I still want to believe that the truly horrific people are outliers and are not going to be considered, in any manner, acceptable by those I respect.  Because there are no words for how vile it is to read, say, Natalie Luhrs’ comment section and see the toxic abuse thrown her way for daring to criticize the way a person who was thrown out of SFWA on his ear got on the ballot.  Because it infuriates me that people will rally to the dialogue about problems in the genre, and thoughtfully listen even if they disagree, except the Hugos are somehow sacrosanct.  No!  If you believe the Hugos are important — especially if you believe the Hugos are important — then be a party of the conversation to fix them.

And even if you disagree with the critics in this case, how can you possibly be okay with the kinds of things that are being said to them?

Also, don’t get me started on the, “Just judge it on its merits!” exhortation that is making the rounds.  The idea that it’s somehow the ethically proper decision to give my audience to a writer I despise — to give my time, my eyes, my thoughts — just because he got his name on the Hugo ballot is ludicrous to me.

Allow me to metaphor.

Let’s say you’re hiring for a very prestigious job.  There’s a guy who’s indisputably well-known for going around punching people in the face, including you.  Every time he sees you he punches you!  You can’t even hear his name without remembering his fist flying at you and thinking, Not again.

Somehow, other people at your company passed him through the application process to the final tier of the job you’re hiring for, along with four other people.  These five are the people you’re supposed to call in to interview.

You say to your (white, straight, male) colleague, “I think we should just cut this guy without seeing him.  He punches people in the face.”

Your colleague: “Well, yeah, I know.  But what if it turns out he’d be really good for this job?”

You: “But he punches people in the face.”

Your colleague: “Maybe he won’t in this context.”

You: “It doesn’t matter!  I don’t want to hire someone who goes around punching people in any context — people including me!”

Your colleague: “But he got through the application process, right?  We really should give him a fair shake.”

And then you sit there stymied, because you know, know, that there’s almost no chance, if you call this guy in for an interview, that he isn’t going to punch you in the face.  Your colleague won’t get punched — he’s not one of the people this guy targets.  He’ll have to watch you get punched, and he’ll cringe and agree that this isn’t the right guy for the job, but hey, now you can feel good about the fact that you called him in to make sure, right?

And you’ll be sitting there with blood streaming out of your nose thinking, I was already fucking sure, you asshole.

How can you tell someone who experiences microaggressions every day, all the time, everywhere, to purposely read something they know will sicken and anger and trigger them — to give audience to an author who has publicly derided people like them as less than human — to get themselves punched in the face — because “merits?”

Personally, I am perfectly comfortable not reading the entire awards slate before voting this year.

6 thoughts on “A Disturbing Trend Post-Hugo Slate, and Why “Merits” Is Not a Valid Thing to Say

  1. Pingback: 2014 Hugo Nominations – the reactions | Far Beyond Reality

  2. Pingback: Yet more on the Hugos and the problem of divorcing an author from their work | Cora Buhlert

  3. Pingback: Some thoughts on the Hugo nominees | Aliette de Bodard

  4. Marc

    I am perfectly okay with you not reading a book before voting it down if you have reasonable suspicion that the author’s writing is not good.

    However, your metaphor is utterly irrelevant. Larry Correia and Mike Williamson, between, them, probably outgun most big-city SWAT teams, but I have yet to hear of a single instance of one of their books shooting anybody. Nor am I particularly concerned about it.

  5. slhuang Post author

    I have no doubt of that. :) The metaphor was meant to read as knowing one feels *emotionally* punched in the face whenever one reads a certain person’s writing, without fail. This might be true regardless of the technical quality of the writing.

    I actually wasn’t referring to Correia or Williamson for my own self — I don’t know Correia’s writing well enough and I’m not aware of Williamson at all (is he nominated? I don’t remember seeing that name) — but there’s another name on the ballot that I feel utterly sure would feel like an emotional face-punching if I read him, so I choose not to. And it is my understanding that other readers do feel similarly about Correia.

  6. http://xiphias.livejournal.com/

    One problem here is that it’s not the sane people who started this. Larry Correia came up with the “Sad Puppy Hugo Slate” thing himself. And actual authors like Correia and Sarah Hoyt are on it — people whose politics I disagree with, but who actually know how to write.

    And then we’ve got Theodore Beale. Who’s also on it.

    And he CAN’T write.

    So why was he on the “Sad Puppy Hugo Slate”? Only possible answer is “because of who he is rather than what he wrote.” The “Sad Puppy Hugo Slate” is clearly based on the politics of the authors rather than the quality of the writing.

    That means that the “voting based on who someone is rather than what someone wrote” has already happened. Saying that we should judge the work based on its own quality rather than its author means that WE have to, but THEY don’t.

    That said, in this case, the question is moot. The work sucks, so on its merits, it will rank below “No Award”.

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